This film is part of Free

Understanding Aggression

Eye-opening drama-doc, originally used in psychiatric nursing training.

Documentary 1960 23 mins



This eye-opening drama-doc, set in a psychiatric hospital, was used to train student nurses and tells us much about evolving attitudes to mental illness. A progressive training tool in its time, it still feels sincere but also sensible and silly in about equal measure. The clinical need to clarify vies with the cinematic need to dramatise, reaching a feverishly literal extreme in scenes of a paranoid schizophrenic being pursued by a giant eye…

New Zealand-born Margaret Thomson, a veteran documentary-maker, had already made two psychiatric training films before being commissioned by the COI to direct this richly fascinating film for the Ministry of Health. Her casting of Irish and African women goes some way to accurately representing post-war nursing intake – the film’s target audience. Older colleagues offer them sage advice: one of the film’s two main purposes was to prepare inexperienced nurses so that they are not too shaken by violent episodes. The other, more innovative, purpose was to encourage medical staff to hold group discussion of patient incidents, modelled on the thoughtful discussion between doctors and nurses taking up the second half of this film – the hope being of course that in the first instance these scenes will trigger animated discussion by viewers as soon as the lights go up when the film is over.